The perception (which is everything) was that McCain was short-stacked and dead man walking. He was being ground down by the blinds and his tournament life was slowly fading. It was just a matter of time.
That was until McCain did what any smart poker player would do in this spot: he upped his odds and pushed all in. When he picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, it was the act of a guy who needed to score a big pot if he had any chance of winning. So he gambled everything on his gunshot straight draw and hoped for the best. The interesting part is that, for now, it looks like it worked. In one move Macaain managed to:
* turned the conversation away from Obama and Bush
* energized the core Republicans (who never liked him much anyway)
* appealed to female voters - or at least took the gender issue from the democrats
* got people to actually start talking about the merits of his candidacy.
All that by playing one hand. Pretty impressive. Now imagine how things would have played out if he chose someone like Tom Ridge or Mitt Romney or another safe pick. He would've been blinded out by November. Sure those guys might be more experienced and actually make better VP's, but that doesn't matter. Politics and policy are different and right now this poker game is about politics. Losers in elections don't get a chance to govern.
Now the gamble of the all-in move is the flop, the turn and the river - i.e. the unknown cards. In this case, the unknown is the skeletons, if any, in Palin's closet. While its too soon to tell for sure, but those cards look pretty good right now too. After a week and change with every reporter in the country on the case, the only dirt that comes out is her teenager is pregnant and she got her ex brother in law fired. For a politician, I call that a pretty clean record.
Will this be enough to beat Obama? No way to tell for certain now. As a candidate who gives a great speech, he's still got a big stack in this game. And if I was a betting man, I'd wager that the stack is going to get bigger in the debates. Just the imagery of the old codger sharing the stage with the young, dynamic guy will be hard for McCain to overcome. Bob Dole had the same issue in 96 against Bill Clinton (as did Nixon with Kennedy in 1960) and couldn't overcome it.
But one things for certain, with the Palin pick, this poker game is now interesting. Thank heavens for that. Only a close game makes for an interesting spectator sport.